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Year-round E-15 sales is good news for Midwest drivers and corn producers, farmers say

The sun sets on a field of corn on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Carbondale, Ill.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The sun sets on a field of corn in July 2022 in Carbondale.

Year-round sales of E-15 will be a boost to Midwestern corn farmers and motorists when the sales start in select states in April 2025, the farmers and their advocates say.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the constant sale of the 15% ethanol blend last week, three years after governors of eight Midwestern states requested it in 2022.

“It is great news,” said Brian Duncan, a grain farmer and president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. “The only thing that would have made it even greater as if it would have been sooner, but we are very pleased.”

The governors of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin made the request, arguing E-15 year-round sales could help drop prices for consumers at the pump with the added supply.

Most gas currently sold in the U.S. is a 10% ethanol blend. Senior Biden administration officials said E-15 sales at 2,300 Midwest stations will save drivers roughly 10 cents per gallon, according to the Associated Press.

Currently, E-15 sales are prohibited from June 1 to Sept. 15 due to environmental concerns that higher ethanol blends hurt air quality at higher summer temperatures. The EPA had temporarily allowed sales in previous summers.

“It's really so important for corn farmers, and for the ethanol industry, to have some sort of certainty — and at least we have that going forward,” said Lindsay Mitchell, a staffer at the Illinois Corn Growers Association.

The EPA has not yet ruled on a waiver for 2024, however.

“We question and are concerned about the implications of the timeline for growers and consumers this summer,” Harold Wolle, a Minnesota farmer and president of the National Corn Growers Association, said in a statement.

Some oil refineries had pushed the EPA to make the E-15 sales nationwide — and not just in the Midwest — because of worries regarding localized price spikes and supply issues, Reuters reported.

Last week’s news also drew concern from those with questions regarding ethanol’s environmental impacts, including Jason Hill, a University of Minnesota professor of bioproducts and biosystems.

Hill, who studies air quality and bioenergy, said ethanol’s carbon dioxide emissions tend to be similar to gasoline coming out of a vehicle’s tailpipe. The impact on human health may not be that different moving from a 10% ethanol blend to a 15% blend, he said.

“Most of the impact of ethanol on air quality is not in burning it but in producing it,” Hill said.

The use of nitrogen fertilizer and livestock manure for corn production leads to high ammonia emissions, Hill said. Those are major contributors to fine particulate matter in the atmosphere, which are damaging to human health, he said.

“It's not a step in the right direction in terms of improving air quality, or reducing climate change or improving water quality,” Hill said. “It is a minor step backwards in terms of all those different environmental impacts.”

Ethanol producers argue that grain-based alternatives are more environmentally friendly and reduce America’s energy reliance on foreign countries.

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues.

Will Bauer is the Metro East reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.